February 15, 2011

"Ivory: Baroque Splendor at the Viennese Court"

Another highlight of my recent trip to Frankfurt was a small but wonderful exhibition of Austrian Baroque Ivories at the Liebieghaus Sculpture Collection. Housed in the former Liebieg Villa situated on the Main River, the collection spans five thousand years of sculpture from Ancient Egypt to Neoclassicism. In cooperation with the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien [Vienna Art History Museum] the Liebieghaus is now presenting a special exhibition that explores the finest of ivory carving produced in Vienna during the reigns of Prince Karl Eusebius von Liechtenstein (1627-1684) and Emperor Leopold I (1658-1705).

Now this may seem like a very dry topic, and I cannot truthfully say that it was on the top of my "to do" list while in Frankfurt, but I had been given passes to the show and thought why not? I was glad I did - the show was exquisite.

Works made of ivory have had an exotic appeal since ancient times but the demand for this rare material imported from far away places reached its apex during the 17th Century in Vienna. Austrian royals were wild about ivory carving and commissioned works by accomplished artists as well as practiced the craft themselves. On display are 35 intricately carved goblets, pitchers, bowls, statuettes and plaques by masters of the art and a tankard by the Emperor Leopold. The subjects vary from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to Bacchanalian feasts to the Allegory of the Elements of Water and Air (see left) to pastoral hunting and fishing scenes. Each work is rendered in infinite detail and the sheen of the ivory makes it look almost artificial.

Of course ivory is now a protected material and the massacre of elephants and walrus' for their precious tusks is a thing of the past. The art of ivory carving has been replaced with more modern pursuits but we can still admire the artistic genius and magnificent workmanship that thrived in Austria during the heyday of ivory art. "Ivory: Baroque Splendor at the Viennese Court" is on view until June 26th.

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